A Note from the Dramaturg – Urinetown

A World Without Water

By Henry Aceves
Dramaturg, Urinetown


What if the world of Urinetown wasn’t so absurd after all? If everyday citizens could only use bathrooms patrolled by security guards? A world where there was no such thing as private water use? For the four million residents of Cape Town, South Africa’s second largest city, this is quickly becoming their reality. They are on track to be the first major city in the world to run out of water.

In 2015, South Africa’s Western Cape province entered a drought due to lack of seasonal rainfall. The water situation in Cape Town was soon exacerbated due to population growth, planting of invasive species, and poor water management by the municipal government. The drought has still not abated and as Cape Town’s population grows and the amount of water in their reservoirs runs dangerously low, extreme water preservation measures have been put in place.

All residents have been instructed to keep from using more than fifty liters (about thirteen gallons) of water each day. Among other things, this demands that they cut down their showers to ninety seconds, flush the toilet only once or twice a day, and conserve their water use for cooking and drinking. Many residents have to collect their allotted fifty liters by standing for hours in line at pump stations around the city, which are patrolled by armed guards to ensure that no one takes more than their share or disturbs the peace.

In this photo taken Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, residents queue for water at a natural spring in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo)


With extreme water conservation practices, Cape Town has managed to push Day Zero–the day when the city officially runs out of water–back to 2019. Despite their best efforts, the water running out is a reality that they must confront. Cape Town is not the only city, either; other cities worldwide are struggling with extreme drought and water shortages due to climate change.

The images of people standing in line for water were a huge inspiration to Diane, our director, and are reflected in the show’s staging. How does the government of Cape Town intend to fix the water crisis? That remains to be seen; hopefully, it won’t be the same way the Urine Good Company does. And how does the UGC fix their water crisis? You’ll have to come to the show to find out.


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